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September 1998, Week 3


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Ed Owens <[log in to unmask]>
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Fri, 18 Sep 1998 12:41:05 +0000
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Lang Thompson wrote:
> While I wouldn't exactly call SPR a "pro-war" film (though any film that
> opens and closes with an American flag certainly subsumes any horrors
> within a Greater Good) the attitude of many reviewers that the explicit
> violence is by definition anti-war seems simplistic at best.
I think the framing of SPR is perhaps the most problematic part of the film.
However, I disagree that the waving flag necessarily shifts the film's focus
away from the anti-war theme.  The desaturated colors and near transparency
point to a a hollow ideal whose time and former power as a unifying or
motivational sign are quickly passing.  Further, any concept of Greater Good
is ironically undercut by the events of the narrative.  Someone else mentioned
the focus on the individual presented in the bookend appearances of Ryan.
This part of the framing is harder to reconcile, in my opinion.
> Part of the
> pull ("appeal" seems not quite right) of warfare (or more precisely combat
> which is not at all the same thing) is that it is outside normal experience
> and to have participated sets that person into a select group. ...To claim
> that
> viewers will see the violence in SPR and think war is horrible and must be
> avoided not only assumes a large leap but runs counter to much historical
> evidence (after all, did Brady's explicit photographs stop the
> Spanish-American War?).
I think the key words in this section of your post are "outside normal
experience" and "see the violence."  You had previously stated that simply
seeing the graphic violence as anti-war was simplistic, and I agree.  But I
think SPR goes far beyond merely presenting images of war.  Everything about
the film, specifically the beach scene and the final defense of the bridge,
positions it not only outside of our "normal experience," but outside of our
normal cinematic experience as well.  Horror films and fans of Hong Kong
cinema (I guiltily admit to being a fan of both), even while presented with
scenes of excessive violence and gore, are presented such images within the
context of a collection of cinematic conventions which minimize the impact.
Spielberg's visual choices, to borrow the phrase, are aimed not at shocking
the viewer with excessive carnage, but rather jarring the viewer out of
cinematic complacency.  Whether or not this technique works in all cases is
surely up for debate.
I, too , found the armless soldier somewhat comical, but I would be curious to
know in what sense you thought so.
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.